Meet April's URL Resident Artist: Xochi Solis
Xochi Solis' paintings emote.
By layering color and texture, paint and imagery, the native Austin artist's complex works are pure expression of "mood and vibration" — obscured renderings of the everyday source material from which Solis derives inspiration and raw material.
Lately, the referenced shapes of her pieces have given way to actual imagery taken from books and magazines that focus on the Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicanx, or Latinx experience. Just like the other materials used in her work, these images (of "a snippet of an arm outreached picking flowers in Xochimilco, a dense ball of corn masa, the brown weathered skin of a campesino") are buried in each piece, giving them a larger meaning as part of a finished whole than they might have had as an individual piece.
It's a similar process to the one used to form an identity, or an authentic, cultural voice — what she describes as the constant theme of her work as an artist.
Below, she tells us more about that process, plus gives us a playlist peek at the music that pairs best with her creative moods.
How do you know you’re an artist? (Besides the obvious!)
I am the daughter of an artist and an educator, a child of the 80s brought up with the Sesame Street mantra that my unique creative ideas were something to be valued and respected. I always had a deep awareness of my surroundings, both physically and emotionally, and my natural response to these observations was to make something. The belief in both my vision and the need to express that vision is at the root of my identity as an artist.
Will you describe your process?
Whether working small on illustration board or large scale with site specific installations, each work is a construction beginning with paint. Paint is either directly applied on my work surface or on clear plastic. This is followed by a collection of materials including: hand-dyed paper, vinyl, plastic, cork and images from books and magazines. First, I recall observations made of organic forms found in the everyday — an unusual pebble, plant leaves outside of my studio or found on a walk, funny clouds or even curves of my own body. In reference to these observations I begin pulling materials together that fit that shape or forms a mood and vibration. Once a healthy stack of paper and painted plastic swatches are gathered I establish a stacking order. Each layer is contingent on the previous and each additional layer increases the complexity of information. Through my technique, I am able to provide a textural experience beyond the flat painted surface. Over the last two or three years I have been incorporating more and more found imagery into my work. So much so that the designation of being a collage artist has sprung up in conversations with critics and curators. However, because of my training as a painter and the fact that no work is ever complete without paint I still think of my works as paintings.
From where are you sourcing the materials that you use in your work — which books and magazines? Are those books and magazines important to the work or just raw material?
Found images entered into my compositions as I began exploring how the shapes in photographic images could substitute the gestural shapes and expressive surfaces found in nature and artistic mark making. At first I became interested in the speed that these surfaces could lend to the process of making my work but as of late, I have been increasingly drawn to images that are connected to storytelling and identity.
For a recent project for the Denver Art Museum, the curators prompted me to consider the weight of the images I use as cultural signifiers. This led me to seek out books and magazines which referenced aspects of Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicanx or the broader Latinx experience. Like my previous works, these found images are often buried or abstract in the final composition but nevertheless they are there. A snippet of an arm outreached picking flowers in Xochimilco, a dense ball of corn masa, the brown weathered skin of a campesino, these images have started entering my work as I further explore my latinidad. What started out as cheap, raw materials are now far more complex and hold more meaning. I look forward to seeing how far I can push the medium.
Where do you find inspiration? From what artists or other works?
Color wise, my first loves are found among natural objects like pecans, fresh mangos, succulents, crystals, algae on the surfaces of pools, etc. I get excited about shapes and colors found within the pages of books and magazines, but also the internet and social media feeds full of images of fur and leather and high fashion makeup. I am continuously thinking of color, both in my work, my home and as ornament. It is such a constant that I have developed a real intuitive sense of what sort of combinations will work. Above any other activity, travel has had the greatest effect on my practice. It is my greatest source of inspiration. Being set on edge by a new place and environment makes my surroundings that much more vivid. Travel leaves an indelible mark on my mind that leaps out when I return to my studio to channel it. The real undertaking is to push beyond my trained sense of color and be open to chance occurrences and experimentation that take the inspiration many steps further!
Looking at other artist’s work is also informative, especially those that focus primarily on color and shape like Ellsworth Kelly or Monique Prieto. Longtime loves have been: Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Cy Twombly, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Joan Jonas, Yvonne Rainer, Bas Jan Ader, Imi Knoebel, Eva Hesse, Robert Motherwell, Lynda Benglis, Helen Frankenthaler. New and recent loves: Jaime Carrejo, Elena Damiani, Johanna Tagada, Lydia Hardwick, Stacy Fisher, Fiona Curran, Kaarina Haka, Cyprien Gaillard, and Christine Sun Kim.
You share your time between Austin and Mexico? Do either or both locations inform your work?
I am a native Austinite with many many generations of my family living in this land we call Texas today. I have seen many changes during my 36 years. Through family members, I have learned even further how the city has taken shape into the metropolis that we recognize today. As I grow and I am nurtured by this city artistically, I recognize that its identity is more than the outside perspective of the “Live Music Capital” or home of SXSW. Now more than ever, with communities of color being further marginalized, I believe it is important to be visible as a female artist of color and to further activate my role as a visual arts leader in my Austin community.
While I am very busy with studio projects and work in Austin, I do act as a visual arts leader in my role as a member and board president of the collectively run art space MASS Gallery. I also spend my time spinning records with the Chulita Vinyl Club and managing the Austin chapter.
In Mexico, my use of time is the exact opposite. In Mexico, I am a quiet stranger, a curious visitor and I give myself the space to meditate on my surroundings in a deep and open way. I have built it into my practice that at least once a year I set up a small mobile studio to work for a few weeks in Mexico. These annual self-guided residencies have really informed my work in remarkable ways. For example, my colorways are more vibrant and the resulting compositions have become more nuanced and intense.
In a way, my whole cultural existence and that of my family has been between the United States and Mexico. Now that I have committed myself to working in this liminal space with intent, I feel very energized about what it will reveal in my work.
How long does it usually take you to finish a single piece?
I don’t enjoy belaboring over one work and prefer to make lots of works in a quick period of time, automatically and naturally responding to the materials at hand. Some weeks I reserve for research and material collecting and other weeks I’ll spend days religiously going to the studio and end up making 10-15 works in the span of 4-6 days.
From looking at your blog, it seems like music is an important component to your work. What is the connection for you?
As a member of the Chulita Vinyl Club DJ collective, I have been spinning records live with them for about a year. As a practice and as a member of a community of Latinx women DJs, the CVC gives me so much life. But my love for music began long before that. My father came from a very musical family and he played in side bands throughout his career as a teacher/school administrator through most of my childhood. There was hardly ever a moment in my household when there wasn’t music playing. I dug through his records curiously since the moment I could walk and began my own music collection in my teen years. At this point I have a little of everything and always hunger for more. I have the same drives and passions for collecting music as I have for collecting books and magazines. Ironically, I began collecting books from thrift stores because they just happened to be in the same place that all the vinyl records and cassette tapes were!
Do you listen to music while working? What kind? What is your studio space like?
ALWAYS! Though lately I also listen to podcasts, too, but that is only when I have a crazy deadline or something. Most of the time, it’s upbeat or nostalgic jammers, but I go through phases. For the longest time all I wanted to hear was Indian Ragas, which I still really love. Listening to music while you are so intently concentrating gives any tune new meaning. All of a sudden you hear timbales you never heard or a track of soft whispering that ebbs in the background giving the song depth. Environmentally, my space is cozy and full. I have tabletops covered with colored papers and my walls have cutouts of big washy paint gestures on paper and plastics. I have stacks and stacks and stacks of books and magazines neatly piled under tables and on benches. In the center of it all is a work table—an inherited table from my maternal grandfather where I complete most of my compositions while teetering on top of a tall stool. I have been in my current studio for almost 12 years and really think of it as home.
Does the type of music you listen to affect the work you’re creating? Perhaps the colors or even shapes?
My work is inherently about color and mood and music plays to those moods, so yep, there’s a song for that.
- For frenzied T.C.B kind of deadline work: 100% Pure Love by Crystal Waters
- For slowly moving paint around: Feeling the Space by Yoko Ono
- For concentrated composition making: Chancha Via Circuito’s album Río Arriba
- For picking out bright colors like tangerine and magenta: Rrrr by Matias Aguayo
- For packing work to ship to my gallery: My Autumn’s Done Come by Lee Hazlewood
How has your work evolved from when you first began to present day? How do you foresee it evolving in the next few years? Do you keep constant themes?
Early on in my assemblage making, I slowly began moving away from the constraints of rectangular canvases and began messing around with shaped paintings. At that time, I was really excited about Dadaist painters like Jean Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who were mixing a lot of non-traditional materials into their painting process.
I was also really drawn to the candy colors and forms of LA-based contemporary artist Monique Prieto. From these inspiration points, I began 'painting' with shaped wood panels and paper. From there my style developed into incorporating found images and a variety of paper sources and eventually I stopped working with wood and focused on light two dimensional materials. In the beginning, like many art students, I was very concerned with making work that was in the vein of what was being taught to me. These examples presented to you by instructors as being examples of work that is “quality” or just “good work.”
A cultural voice is always present in these exemplary works, but for the most part art instructors tend to only talk of “good work” eschewing any political or social implications. It is a constant journey to find and keep your own authentic voice and even more so as an artist of color. As the Cuban American performance artist Ana Mendieta said “It is always about a search for origins” and that is very true in my practice. Instead of imitating work that I have no connection to, I am continually researching and making work to find the voice that was never taught to me. I believe there is an authentic message that lies deep within my DNA that I hope to infuse my work with. Through a process of thinking through my work I hope to transgress against my routine and push my work to places beyond where it is today.